Opposing Certain Housing-Related Elements of the Governorn's 2023-24 Budget Proposal
February 8, 2023
Hon. Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Hochul:
We write to express our deep concern about, and strong opposition to, certain elements of your budget proposal submitted to the State Legislature on Feb. 1, 2023.
The Westmoreland Association is a homeowners and civic association representing over 330 households, straddling both sides of the Queens/Nassau County border. We are located primarily in the Little Neck area of Queens, with a smaller portion in the Great Neck area of Nassau. We are bounded generally by Northern Boulevard on the south, Little Neck Parkway on the west, 39th Road and the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) Port Washington Branch line on the north, and Nassau Road on the east. The Little Neck LIRR station is immediately adjacent to our northern boundary. Most of the Westmoreland area is currently zoned for one-family homes with a minimum lot size of 40 X 100 feet.
Among the elements of the budget proposal to which we are opposed are the following:
Mandatory increased density through Transit Oriented Development (TOD):
We agree that transit hubs and associated "downtown" areas near transit stations are logical areas for higher density zones. However, the budget proposal would create density that is greatly excessive for many of the affected areas. The TOD proposal requires a density of at least 50 units per acre in a half mile radiusaround transit stations in and within 15 miles of New York City, decreasing to 30 units/acre within 30 miles of NYC and 20 units/acre within 50 miles of NYC. For the combined Little Neck-Douglaston area, the TOD proposal would require an increase from the current total of approximately 1,460 units to more than 13,800 units -- an astounding and disastrous 945% increase. Such an increase will dramatically and unfavorably change the character of these stable, predominantly middle-class neighborhoods. [NOTE: after this letter was sent, a recalculation of the impact on the Little Neck-Douglaston community showed a current total of approximately 2,976 units that would increase to 18,135 units under the TOD proposal, a still disastrous 609% increase.]
Importantly, there is nothing in the proposal that would require or even incentivize the creation of affordable housing in TOD areas; on the contrary, these would all be market rate housing units.
These areas have been zoned by the responsible local governments as part of a thoughtful, contextual zoning plan that provides a reasonable balance among different density limits. For example, the large majority of New York City, including much of Queens, is zoned for very high densities. Eastern Queens is one of the few areas of the City zoned for lower densities.
The TOD proposal is a proverbial "blunt instrument" that entirely ignores the existing development patterns which give communities and neighborhoods their desirable diverse character. For example, thanks to thoughtful zoning, many of the areas near transit stops on the LIRR's Port Washington branch already have a "downtown" character (including but not limited to Woodside, Flushing, Murray Hill, Bayside, Great Neck, etc.), and these already have appropriate higher density zoning with larger apartment buildings and supporting commercial development for food shopping, etc.
By contrast, the area immediately around the Little Neck station is almost entirely residential, with virtually no commercial development. Instead, the associated "downtown" portion of Little Neck -- where much higher density zoning already prevails and where there is extensive and appropriate commercial development -- is centered on Northern Boulevard, a major thoroughfare located at and just beyond a half mile from the Little Neck railroad station. The TOD proposal completely ignores the sensible, existing development pattern in Little Neck, blindly imposing high density requirements in precisely the wrong places.
The TOD and associated proposals would have very significant impacts on the adequacy of infrastructure, including roadways, parking, and school capacity; none of these are addressed in the budget proposals. On the contrary, a mere $250 million is provided for infrastructure improvements statewide -- an almost trivial amount considering that the TOD proposal itself would generate far more than a million new units in Long Island alone, and many more in Queens, other parts of NYC, and Westchester.
As noted at the outset, the goal of focusing increased density near rail stations is reasonable, but it is very important that the detailed judgments be left to local governments, which are best able to balance the needs for additional housing with the need to maintain appropriate zoning diversity and quality of life considerations. It is precisely for this reason that zoning has always been understood to be a local issue, appropriate for local decision-making. Importantly, and in that context, we note that the TOD proposal, as well as other elements of the budget proposal, violate the State constitution and the rights of local governments to do their own planning.
Legalization of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), regardless of local zoning:
This budget proposal would allow basement and attic apartments, garage conversions, and additional building units, regardless of local plans and zoning regulations. This is disastrous for contextually planned, single-family zoned areas such as ours. Among other concerns, the proposal has no on-site parking requirements, and no reference to safety requirements (e.g., with respect to basement dwellings where flooding can be fatal, as tragically demonstrated during Hurricane Ida in 2021). The proposal ignores impacts on local infrastructure (parking availability, roadway adequacy, school capacity, etc.).
Even worse, the proposal would give property tax exemptions to those owners creating ADUs, thus reducing the revenues available to local governments that will be necessary to respond to the increased infrastructure needs of the affected communities! And as with the TOD proposal, the proposal includes no requirement to ensure -- or even incentives to promote -- affordability. On the contrary, the ADUs would be market-rate rentals.
Amnesty for all illegal conversions in NYC:
This proposal is deeply flawed, as it ignores the fact that many illegal conversions are highly dangerous. Fires from faulty wiring and flooding from poor design have caused many injuries and fatalities. The proposal includes no obligation on the owners of these illegal and often dangerous units to self-identify and bring their units up to code. Indeed, because the owners who do self-identify will pay higher taxes (both property and income), there is a strong disincentive for them to come forward. There is also no provision to provide for increased funding and staffing sufficient to enable local building departments to oversee the amnesty program and enforce safety codes. As with other proposals, here too there is no requirement that the illegal units be affordable.
Violation of Home Rule principle:
The budget proposals provide for mandatory housing density targets on a 3-year cycle in all municipalities, with State-level intervention and over-ride if the targets are not met. This is another serious violation of the Home Rule principle in the State constitution. This principle recognizes that planning and zoning decisions are best made at the local level, with proper contextual consideration of existing development patterns and thoughtful targeting of future development.
Inappropriate use of the budget process to carry out complex legislative initiatives:
It is entirely inappropriate to seek to enact legislation as sweeping, complex and consequential as this through the annual -- and notably opaque -- state budget process. With a scant two months for public review and engagement, this is the antithesis of a transparent, informative and informed political process.
Absence of public engagement, and ignoring the concerns of homeowners:
The proposals fail entirely to consider the concerns of the residents of the affected areas. Instead, after three years the state would indiscriminately impose the density changes without any local feedback or recourse. The proposals fail to recognize the changes to the qualities of life that brought every homeowner to purchase in that area. While change in a community is inevitable, and there is never a guarantee for any homeowner that no unwished for changes will occur, these proposals impose changes by fiat in a way that would never happen under local jurisdiction. People cherish the freedom to choose the type of neighborhood they want for themselves and their families; and they expect to have a reasonable opportunity to influence the pace and nature of change through their local elected officials. Thoughtful urban planning has always promoted diversity, with a vibrant and interesting city being made up of a wide variety of different types of neighborhoods. These proposals are wholly inconsistent with that sensible approach.
We urge that these proposals be removed from the budget process, and that any further consideration of these or similar proposals take place through the appropriate legislative process.
cc: Lieutenant Governor Anthony Delgado
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli
State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, State Senate Majority Leader
State Senator Robert G. Ortt, State Senate Minority Leader
Assembly Member Carl E. Heastie, Speaker & Assembly Majority Leader
Assembly Member William A. Barclay, Assembly Minority Leader
State Senator Toby Stavisky
State Senator John Liu
Assembly Member Edward Braunstein
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards
NYC Council Member Vickie Paladino
Queens Civic Congress
Douglaston Civic Association
Douglas Manor Association
Supporting Recognition of Architectural Districts Within New York City
March 25, 2016
Hon. Tony Avella
New York State Senate
38-50 Bell Boulevard Suite
Bayside, NY 11361
RE: Bill Number S6958
Dear Senator Avella:
We write to express our support of the above-referenced bill that would promote the creation and recognition of architectural districts within New York City. The bill was discussed at our general membership meeting on March 21, 2016, and the members present voted nearly unanimously to support the objectives of this legislation.
We recognize that among the motivations for this legislative proposal is the slow pace and highly restrictive nature of historic district designation. This legislation would create an alternative and less stringent pathway through which a community can protect its architectural heritage and maintain the character of their neighborhood.
Thank you for your continued efforts to help us maintain the integrity of our unique residential neighborhoods!
cc: Hon. Edward Braunstein, New York State Assembly
Opposing Certain Proposed Zoning Rule Changes and Supporting Proposed Resolution Addressed to Federal Aviation Administration
November 21, 2015
Hon. Paul Vallone
New York City Council
42-40 Bell Boulevard, Suite 507
Bayside, NY 11361
Dear Councilman Vallone:
We write to endorse the positions you have recently taken on two issues of considerable local importance – the City Planning Commission’s “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” (ZQA) text amendment proposal; and your resolution calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to amend the North Shore helicopter route to extend west to cover Northeast Queens.
These two issues were discussed at length during our General Membership meeting on November 21, 2015. The members voted unanimously to endorse your FAA resolution; and voted unanimously (with one absention) to oppose the ZQA.
As you know, the Westmoreland Association represents the Westmoreland community in the northeast corner of Queens County. Our community is bounded generally by Northern Boulevard on the south; Little Neck Parkway on the west; the Long Island Railroad on the north; and Nassau Road on the east.
The ZQA proposal would amend the zoning rules to encourage larger building developments, and would increase the permissible floor-to-area ratio for certain kinds of developments. Although well meaning and intended to address a legitimate concern, namely the lack of affordable housing in the City for senior citizens among others, the ZQA is misguided in its approach. We in the Westmoreland Association, like the members of so many other civic associations throughout the residential areas of Queens and the other Boroughs, have worked for many years to maintain our quality of life and prevent the over-development of local communities. We share the concern of our colleagues across the city that the ZQA proposal could overturn the contextual zoning changes for which we have worked so long. Among other concerns, we disagree with the element of the ZQA that would reduce the number of parking spaces builders would be required to provide. It is already nearly impossible to find on-street parking in much of our City; this proposal will aggravate an unacceptable situation. While the specific provisions of the ZQA proposal will not directly affect the Westmoreland community, we are proud to stand in solidarity with our neighbors who live in the communities that will be affected. We urge that the currently proposed zoning text amendments be rejected.
We likewise strongly support your resolution calling on the FAA to extend the North Shore helicopter route to include Northeast Queens. The North Shore route was established by the FAA to reduce noise from helicopters flying over residential areas of Nassau and Suffolk, by having them fly over water to the extent possible. The route currently ends at the Queens/Nassau border, but the same need to reduce noise exists with respect to helicopters flying over Northeast Queens. We encourage the City Council to pass this resolution and work directly with the FAA to see that it is implemented.
cc: Hon. Melinda Katz, Queens Borough President
Supporting Proposals Regarding the Department of Buildings
May 27, 2007
Hon. Frank Padavan
New York State Senate
89-39 Gettysburg Street
Bellerose, NY 11426
Hon. James F. Brennan
New York State Assembly
416 Seventh Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Re: Legislative Package to Improve Regulation and Enforcement of Development in New York City
The Westmoreland Association is a homeowners’ association representing the Westmoreland area of Little Neck, Queens, in New York City. This area is bounded generally by Northern Boulevard on the south, Little Neck Parkway on the west, 39th Road on the north, and Nassau Road on the east.
At the organization’s General Membership meeting of May 21, 2007 the members present voted unanimously to endorse the above-referenced package of legislation. The bills in question include A7745/S5422; A7800/S5223; A7755/S5407; A7746/S4603; A7744/S5410; A7748/S5246; and A7747/S5441.
Our endorsement was qualified only to the extent our members expressed concern that some of these pieces of legislation do not go far enough to make needed changes in the practices of the Department of Buildings. For example, there was consensus that: A7755/S5407 should apply to all violations, not just hazardous violations. Similarly, our members felt that A7746/S4603 should require, not merely allow DOB to refuse to accept filings from those found to have knowingly or negligently submitted false documents (at least for a specified period of time, e.g., four or five years).
Most important, there was a strong consensus among our members that A7745/S5422 should prohibit issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy not only until all fines and penalties are paid, but also until all violative conditions are fully corrected. In our own community, the Department of Buildings last year issued a Certificate of Occupancy for a house that had knowingly been constructed nearly 20% closer to the sideline than permitted by zoning. Payment of a few thousand dollars in fines that may or may not have been imposed for this violation, without requiring the builder to correct the violation, is worse than useless – it actually makes a mockery of the zoning requirements. Despite frequent complaints and requests from the adjacent homeowner, our organization and our New York City Councilman Tony Avella, the Department of Buildings never responded to our complaints about this violation, and never responded to any inquiries about why the Certificate was issued despite our repeated and timely complaints.
Nevertheless, we agree that there are valuable and important elements in the legislative package, which is why we unanimously endorse that package. Among the elements our members thought most useful were the provision in A7745/S5422 empowering Community Boards to request up to 30 audits per year; and the technical assistance grant in A7747/S5441.
We thank you both for sponsoring this package of legislation.
cc: Hon. Tony Avella, New York City Council
Testimony of Walter Mugdan, President of the Westmoreland Association, Before the New York City Council Zoning Committee
December 14, 2006
Concerning the Proposed Rezoning of Certain Portions of Little Neck and Douglaston, Queens
My name is Walter Mugdan. I serve as president of the Westmoreland Association, a homeowners association which represent about 335 homes in the Westmoreland section of Little Neck. About 85% of these homes are located within the current New York City R2 zone.
The Westmoreland Association strongly and enthusiastically supports the proposal to rezone all of our R2 areas to the new R2A designation. We have had a lot of concerns with demolition of existing houses and replacement with over-sized houses, often called “McMansions.” We believe the R2A designation will help maintain the character of our neighborhood and limit the severe over-building of recent years in our area and neighboring communities.
I would like to take a moment to explain to you how the Westmoreland Association developed its position on this matter, because I think the process is important in weighing the outcome.
When the R2A rezoning for our area was originally proposed some 21 months ago, we distributed to every house a flyer announcing the proposal, saying it would affect most homes in our area and would be discussed at our March 2005 meeting. That meeting was well attended – nearly 20% of the affected households were represented.
At the meeting we had a presentation by City Councilman Tony Avella. We distributed fact sheets with copies from the New York City Planning Department web site. Additional information was provided by two architects from our community (one a member of our Board of Directors). At the end of the extended discussion, a motion carried unanimously that the Association go on record to support the R2A rezoning.
As always, minutes of the meeting were posted on our web site. We also posted a detailed description of the proposal, with links to the City Planning Department website.
We have discussed the proposal again at each of our six subsequent meetings (May, September and November, 2005, and March, May and September, 2006). At every meeting, I urged individuals to make their views – pro or con – known to the relevant government officials.
At our September `05 meeting I explained that the City Planning Department had asked the civic associations representing the Douglaston-Little Neck area to work together in an effort to provide a consensus position on the rezoning plan. We distributed copies of the Department’s detailed draft map. A motion carried unanimously authorizing me to work with the other civic groups and the Department to further the R2A rezoning proposal.
At the November `05 meeting, I proposed to write to our local newspaper, The Little Neck Ledger, expressing concern over misinformation about the R2A proposal that was then being circulated in another community. The attendees voiced unanimous support, and I wrote that letter.
At our September ‘06 meeting I reported on the hearing held earlier that month by Community Board 11, and stated that I would be testifying at additional hearings on the issue, including this one before the City Council Zoning Committee; all present were again supportive.
I believe it is important for you to understand that our members have had ample and extensive opportunity to learn about, and be heard concerning the R2A rezoning proposal. The issue has been discussed at seven consecutive meetings of the organization, and details are available on our web site along with our meeting minutes. The sense of our membership, as expressed at every meeting, and in two formal votes taken months apart, was unanimous in support of the rezoning plan.
We respectfully request that the City Council Zoning Committee formally endorse this rezoning proposal, which is so important to the protection of our neighborhood.